PARASHAH: Ki Tavo (When you come)
ADDRESS: D'varim (Deuteronomy) 26:1-29:8
READING DATE: Shabbat
AUTHOR: Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy
Let’s begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:
atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-O’lam,
(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
Ki Tavo means, “When you come”. The opening p’sukim (verses) speak about the bikkurim (first fruits) offered as the community participant entered into the Land of Promise. To offer the first of the produce of the ground was to affirm and signify that the person was dedicating everything he has to the service of HaShem.
The offering, like any other offering, was facilitated through the priest. This has always been HaShem’s pattern of worship, and it remains down to this day. All who carefully name the name of the LORD must approach him in the sacrificial intercession of his Only and Unique Son Yeshua. To approach him otherwise is to risk rejection and ultimately spiritual death. Thus, the pattern remains.
The crux of the parashah is found in chapter 26 verses 16-19 where we see that truly God and Isra'el are an inseparable covenant pair. Moshe informs his listeners that it is HaShem’s desire to have his covenant people intimately identify with him by becoming his “’Am S’gulah” (Treasured People), and by carefully upholding (establishing) his commandments. To be sure, Moshe describes in no uncertain terms, the condition in which the mitzvot are to be carried out: with all your heart and with all your soul (verse 17). So what is the problem with these instructions? Absolutely nothing! The man Moshe continues by stating that they, ‘Am Yisra’el (the People of Isra'el), have distinguished HaShem to be their only God, and to walk in his ways, while HaShem for his part has distinguished ‘Am Yisra’el to be his Treasured People, and to make them supreme over all the other nations on the earth. Don’t confuse this unique position. This special election is a display of God’s divine Will, and not a matter of “playing favorites”. In other words, Isra'el is singled out for a purpose: to showcase the holiness of HaShem to all the peoples of the earth, and to bring glory to the One and Only Creator of all mankind.
We who live with the tension of believing in Yeshua’s faithful sacrifice while becoming submissive to the Torah of HaShem must understand that we have joined ourselves to this divine calling as well. I say “tension” because for the last 2000 years or so there has existed a great confusion over whether or not a believer should even attempt to become Torah submissive. The idea is really rather ludicrous when common sense is exercised. Of course a genuine child of God should be Torah submissive. It is rather cruel to imagine a God who would put a whole nation of people through the unnecessary judgment of wandering for 40 years in a barren wilderness for failing to perform his commandments, only to send his Son into the world to set all men free from these very same commandments! We need to understand the Torah from God’s eternal perspective.
This Torah portion vividly details the curses associated with failure to obey the commandment of HaShem. However, in order to grasp the concepts contained within these next few chapters, the reader MUST understand true Torah obedience first! I cannot stress this issue too much here! If we are to live our lives in a manner that is pleasing to our Heavenly Abba, then we must understand and come to grips with the mitzvot and our heart’s attitude toward them.
Chapter 28 contains what is known in Judaism as the ‘Tochacha’. We have encountered this before in Leviticus 26:14-46. Allow me to recall my notes from there for you:
The Hebrew word ‘tochacha’ means ‘reproof, correction, scolding, reprimand, punishment’, etc. By its context it conveys the purpose of “divine retribution”. Interesting by comparison, the Hebrew of this current perek (chapter) is written in the plural, addressing collective Isra'el. Its counterpart in D’varim 28, however, is written in the singular. The Gaon of Vilna explains that the difference conveyed by the listing in D’varim is that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, is addressing collective Isra'el, that is, each and every Jew that was present then and each and every Jew that will be born in the future. Indeed a quote from the JPS version of D’varim 29: 13, 14 (actually found in Parashat Nitzavim) gives the Gaon this impression:
Again, as in Leviticus, our teacher of blessed memory Nechama Leibowitz adds further insights to this parashah:
The chapter of Retribution (Tokheha), as it is termed, outlining the evils in store for a backsliding Israel which takes up the greater past of our sidra proceeds in ascending order from more usual upheavals and catastrophes to sickness and plague, drought and famine, war and persecution until the Climax of exile and expulsion from the homeland is reached:
And the Lord shall scatter thee among all peoples, from the one end of the earth unto the other end of the earth; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou nor thy fathers, even wood and stone. And among these nations shalt thou have no repose, and there shall be no rest for the sole of thy foot; but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and languishing of soul. (28, 64--65)
The second half of verse 64 stating that they would serve other gods of wood and stone seems to run counter to the sequence of the passage and not to fit in with the crescendo of catastrophes awaiting a disobedient Israel. Is this statement regarding their ultimate acceptance of idolatry a reference to the sin on account of which they would forfeit their homeland? This explanation does not suit the context where it is distinctly stated that they would serve idols "there"- whilst in exile. Moreover all the verses 'beginning from 59 onwards dwell on their exile and the attendant sufferings, the subject of the sin which would cause it having already been alluded to. As Rashi observes sufferings do not evoke iniquities but blot them out. The reference here therefore to their serving idols must allude, in keeping with the context, to a part of their retribution. In accordance with this explanation Rashi, following the Targum Onkelos, states:
However, Rashi's explanation does not take account of the explicit use of the phrase "and there thou shalt serve other gods". Abravanel's suggestion which is colored by the religious persecutions of his times is more suited to the wording of the text: As a result of their desperate situation in the lands of their dispersion, hounded by unspeakable persecution, many of them would succumb, against their will, to the demands of their persecutors and embrace alien faiths and idolatrous worship, in which they did not really believe. Knowing them to be of wood and stone that could neither see nor hear, they would worship them only in order to escape death. The idolatry referred to here is thus not in the sense of sin, but rather as part of the punishment inflicted on them, that they would be brought to such a state or being forced, against their will to serve idols, although inwardly believing in God. Jews would thus be forced to serve idols not out of conviction but against their will knowing it to be false and foolish. This is indeed a terrible fate and punishment for having worshipped idols of their own free will in their ancestral homeland…
We are thus left no alternative but to accept the yoke of heaven and be servants of G-d. Our Sages however found a message of consolation in this very same verse: “But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto the ark” (Genesis 8, 9). R. Judah ben R. Nahman in the name of R. Shimon stated: If it had found a resting place it would not have returned. Parallel to this we find (Lamentations 1) “She dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest”—if she would have found rest she would not have returned. Parallel to this we find: And among these nations shalt thou have no repose and there shall be no rest for the sole of thy foot”—thus if they would have found rest they would not have returned. (B’resheet Rabba 33, 8.)
In the Hebraic mind, to accept the yoke of heaven (also spoken of as the yoke of the Kingdom) means to place one’s trust in HaShem. Additionally, to accept the yoke of the Torah means to be submissive to God’s Written Word. We know from spiritual hindsight that trust in HaShem and submissiveness to his Torah should result in trust in his Son Yeshua. Such trust is meant to be a safeguard against idolatry. Sadly, far too few believers actually avail themselves of the full measure of protection that the Ruach HaKodesh offers. If the historic Church would have kept the Written Word guarded (Heb: shamar) we might not have the penchant lust for Sun worship that is rife in Christianity. Conversely, if the historic Synagogue had not aligned herself against the newly formed Church, we might not have the lack of faith in Yeshua (Jesus) that we find in Rabbinic Judaism today. So what should a proper balance of trust and obedience look like?
“Trust and Obey for There’s No Other Way…” (Recalling the old, familiar Baptist tune…)
I want to demonstrate a good biblical view of trust and obedience by examining two of the New Testament’s better known, yet seemingly opposing authors: Rav Sha’ul (Apostle Paul) and Ya’akov haTzaddik (James the Just). The former wrote some 13 or possibly 14 letters to the believing communities of his day; the latter was the physical brother of our LORD Yeshua himself. First Sha’ul.
In his letter to Rome, he wrote in 3:28 that a person is considered righteous by God on the grounds of trusting which has nothing to do with the Torah (or as in KJV “works of Law”). On the surface this seems problematic for my own teachings which consider Torah observance to be of great significance. Yet, the problem here is really more a matter of translation than of theology. What Sha’ul is really talking about when he employs the Greek phrase “erga nomou”, translated here as “works of Law” is in actuality a technical phrase that our rabbi coined to describe a legalistic orientation to the gracious Torah that HaShem provided for his people to submit to. In other words, this is Sha’ul’s technical term for a person who misunderstands the Torah as offering righteousness based on a legalistic perversion of it, rather than basing his own righteousness on faith-which the Torah truly requires! So it must be understood that Sha’ul is not opposing Torah submissiveness here. Rather, he is opposing the legalistic perversion of God’s good Torah into a system of works-based righteousness, apart from trust and devoid of true love for the giver of the Torah.
Now in Sha’ul’s letter to Ephesus he also seems to be in opposition to Ya’akov (a position which we will examine shortly). A cursory reading of 2:8-9, a familiar passage, gives us the impression that only by faith alone are we considered righteous, and that external actions (assumed to be works of Law) are of no apparent consequence to HaShem. The passage needs to be understood in its entirety-to include verse 10! The entire context affirms the biblical fact that our gracious gift of righteousness was indeed granted unto us so that in union with Messiah Yeshua, we might live the life of good actions already prepared for us to do!
Now let’s see what Ya’akov has to say.
A reading from chapter 2 verses 14-26 appears as an overemphasis of actions as opposed to faith. In reality, a common understanding of these verses might give the reader the impression that works are more important than faith itself. Yet, Ya’akov’s audience, unlike Sha’ul’s, did not have a problem with actions leading to legalism. Instead they had a problem with a dead faith that led them nowhere! So Ya’akov masterfully constructed a correct biblical theology which showed that genuine biblical trust ALWAYS leads an individual into genuine biblical actions! This is in complete harmony with what Sha’ul was teaching! Faith must not be substituted for good works, and good works should not be substituted for faith! Moreover, good works do not replace faith, nor does faith cancel out the performance of good works. To be straightforward:
“Faith and good works go hand in hand! One without the other is incomplete and lacking of true biblical righteousness!”
So Moshe goes to great lengths to demonstrate that a heart which is devoid of true biblical faith (there really is only ONE kind of biblical faith folks!) is a heart which will lead the individual down a degenerative path straight into the curses pronounced here in our Torah portion! The heart of doubt is ultimately headed for destruction, as the curses vividly demonstrate! Moshe’s heart, which is the heart of the Father, is that they would truly circumcise their hearts to follow after HaShem and his ways, and to become the people that God truly desires them to be!
Blessings and curses are quite simply the effects (God supplying the cause) of our heart condition. If we follow trust and obedience, blessings will follow us! But if we harden our hearts and pursue doubt and disobedience, then the Torah instructs us that not only will the blessings be withheld, but that the curses will actually pursue us instead the blessing (see 28:45). To be sure, we don’t deserve any blessings at all! Yet God in his mercy sees fit to grant blessings, provided we continue in his covenant with a heart that is governed by genuine trust!
At this point in my commentary, it becomes painfully clear that I need to define whom the recipients of the blessing and the curses are, based on responsibility to the Torah. For it is indeed true that Gentile responsibility differs slightly from Jewish responsibility. Volumes could be said, but I will be brief.
Jews have been given the task of showcasing God’s holiness and righteous standard in the earth. To this end HaShem supplied them with his Written Word of holiness. The very same God expected them to accept and uphold this Torah in faith. So the Jews have been given Torah, and their responsibility and response to it should be a heart that is circumcised towards God. The Gentiles are in a position to receive the very same Torah and grace demonstrated by believing Isra'el, by becoming partakers and fellow covenant-keepers, through their demonstration of the exact same biblical faith! Yeshua the Messiah came to inaugurate the covenant originally made with the offspring of Avraham (read Jeremiah 31:31-34). This covenant now included Gentiles en masse, provided they continue in the very same trust that Isra'el was expected to demonstrate. Failure to continue in genuine trusting faithfulness for either Jew or Gentile participants invited God to place them in a position that Sha’ul called “broken off”. In other words, natural branches (Jews) could be broken off because of lack of trust, and grafted-in branches (Gentiles) could also be broken off due to lack of trust (read Romans chapter 11)!
So we see that the Torah is the universal document for both peoples and it outlines God’s plan for all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles. To be grafted into the family of God is to join oneself to a Jewish Olive Tree. To this end, one becomes submissive to the instructions and righteousness of God, and inherits the blessings of God. To walk in disobedience and lack of trust is to invite God’s punishment and withholding of blessing. To belong to the family is to mentally and spiritually accept the family rules. To this end, both Jews and Gentiles are expected to practice Torah submissiveness within their hearts. To submit to God is to desire and allow his Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) to continually mold a person’s life into the example of the Son of God, who vividly displayed a Torah-obedient and submissive life! This is the responsibility of a believer.
To suppose that mere faith alone is pleasing to God is to misunderstand the valuable lesson explained by Ya’akov. Such faith alone is barren and of no value to God. Conversely, to mistakenly replace the genuine faith that the Torah teaches with mere outward actions (even actions described by the Torah itself) is to misunderstand Rav Sha’ul’s valuable lesson. Such actions also prove to be displeasing to God and unacceptable as righteous.
To sum up my commentary this week:
"Pay attention and listen, Israel!" Moses called out to the people. [Deut 27:9]
The phrase "pay attention" ('has-kayt') is not commonly used. One explanation given in the Talmud is:
R. Yossi went further and stated that scholars who study by themselves bring upon themselves violence ('the sword'), stupidity, and sin!
What is so terrible about studying alone?
Rav Kook answers this question both on a practical level, and in terms of the very essence of the Torah.
There are three practical benefits when scholars study together in groups. The first advantage is that they become accustomed to hearing opinions different from their own. This trains them for greater openness and tolerance. Scholars who study by themselves, on the other hand, are not exposed to their colleagues numerous ideas. Such scholars grow to be intolerant of any opinion which differs from their own interpretation. This intolerance is a major factor in disputes and fights, leading to verbal and even physical violence.
Secondly, scholars who study alone or in small groups will not succeed in properly analyzing matters of faith and basic Torah views. In terms of these fundamental areas of knowledge, such reclusive scholars become 'stupid'.
And thirdly, the lack of proper clarification of matters of law and Halakhah will lead those who study by themselves to mistakes and sin. Furthermore, solitude tends to lead to unnecessary stringency, which is referred to as sinful (as in the case of the Nazir). Also, as teachers and leaders, these scholars are judged according to the negative influence they have on the people.
On a fundamental level, Rav Kook explains, there is a contradiction between the Torah and a life of reclusiveness and rejection of the world. The Torah is a Torah of life, which values those correct enjoyments which enrich the individual and give happiness. In its basic nature, the Torah requires social and communal living, which leads to a healthy society and an appreciation for friendship.
The pursuit of solitude and distance from society - which many thought would bring closeness to God - is alien to the very nature of the Torah, to such an extent that even the study and acquisition of Torah knowledge may not be properly accomplished by solitary study [Ayn Aya II:389-390].
The closing blessing is as follows:
atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-O’lam,
(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy firstname.lastname@example.org